NCE UPON A time there was a little boy who had taken cold. He had gone out and got his feet wet; though nobody could imagine how it had happened, for it was quite dry weather. So his mother undressed him, put him to bed, and had the tea-pot brought in, to make him a good cup of Elderflower tea. Just at that moment the merry old man came in who lived up a-top of the house all alone; for he had neither wife nor children--but he liked children very much, and knew so many fairy tales, that it was quite delightful.
"Now drink your tea," said the boy's mother; "then, perhaps, you may hear a fairy tale."
"If I had but something new to tell," said the old man. "But how did the child get his feet wet?"
"That is the very thing that nobody can make out," said his mother.
"Am I to hear a fairy tale?" asked the little boy.
"Yes, if you can tell me exactly--for I must know that first--how deep the gutter is in the little street opposite, that you pass through in going to school."
"Just up to the middle of my boot," said the child; "but then I must go into the deep hole."
"Ah, ah! That's where the wet feet came from," said the old man. "I ought now to tell you a story; but I don't know any more."
"You can make one in a moment," said the little boy. "My mother says that all you look at can be turned into a fairy tale: and that you can find a story in everything."
"Yes, but such tales and stories are good for nothing. The right sort come of themselves; they tap at my forehead and say, 'Here we are.'"
"Won't there be a tap soon?" asked the little boy. And his mother laughed, put some Elder-flowers in the tea-pot, and poured boiling water upon them.
"Do tell me something! Pray do!"
"Yes, if a fairy tale would come of its own accord; but they are proud and haughty, and come only when they choose. Stop!" said he, all on a sudden. "I have it! Pay attention! There is one in the tea-pot!"
And the little boy looked at the tea-pot. The cover rose more and more; and the Elder-flowers came forth so fresh and white, and shot up long branches. Out of the spout even did they spread themselves on all sides, and grew larger and larger; it was a splendid Elderbush, a whole tree; and it reached into the very bed, and pushed the curtains aside. How it bloomed! And what an odour! In the middle of the bush sat a friendly-looking old woman in a most strange dress. It was quite green, like the leaves of the elder, and was trimmed with large white Elder-flowers; so that at first one could not tell whether it was a stuff, or a natural green and real flowers.
"What's that woman's name?" asked the little boy.
"The Greeks and Romans," said the old man, "called her a Dryad; but that we do not understand. The people who live in the New Booths have a much better name for her; they call her 'old Granny'--and she it is to whom you are to pay attention. Now listen, and look at the beautiful Elderbush.
"Just such another large blooming Elder Tree stands near the New Booths. It grew there in the corner of a little miserable court-yard; and under it sat, of an afternoon, in the most splendid sunshine, two old people; an old, old seaman, and his old, old wife. They had great-grand-children, and were soon to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of their marriage; but they could not exactly recollect the date: and old Granny sat in the tree, and looked as pleased as now. 'I know the date,' said she; but those below did not hear her, for they were talking about old times.
"'Yes, can't you remember when we were very little,' said the old seaman, 'and ran and played about? It was the very same court-yard where we now are, and we stuck slips in the ground, and made a garden.'
"'I remember it well,' said the old woman; 'I remember it quite well. We watered the slips, and one of them was an Elderbush. It took root, put forth green shoots, and grew up to be the large tree under which we old folks are now sitting.'